Review: "How Does Your Engine Run?": Alert Program for Self-Regulation

Cover image courtesy of TherapyWorks

By Mary Sue Williams, OTR, and Sherry Shellenberger, OTR; 24 pages. From the program description: "The program promotes awareness of how individuals regulate their arousal states and encourages the use of sensory-motor strategies."

This booklet doesn't offer the last word on the Alert Program (there's a leader's guide for that), but it does give parents a good overview and enough information to think about trying the program at home with their children -- and about what makes their own engines run, too.

Manufacturer's Site


  • Introduces a useful program for helping kids regulate their levels of alertness.
  • Gives a good framework for understanding sensory integration.
  • Short and inexpensive.
  • Clearly written and illustrated.
  • May help parents understand themselves a little better, too.


  • Provides a good introduction, but you'll need a more expensive book to get the whole program.
  • Children need to be at an appropriate maturity level to benefit from the program.
  • You'll probably need the help of an occupational therapist to really put this in action.
  • No technique works for every child.


  • Part One: Introduction
  • Part Two: Alert Program Goals
  • Part Three: Basics of the Alert Program
  • Occupational Therapy
  • Sensory Integration
  • Arousal States or Engine Levels
  • Protective Responses of the Nervous System
  • Inhibition and its Relationship to "Heavy Work"
  • Sensory-Motor Preferences
  • "Detective Work"
  • Part Four: Stages of Teaching the Alert Program


    Have you ever been stuck in a boring meeting? What do you do to keep yourself alert? Guzzle coffee? Tap your foot? Chew on the end of your pen? Doodle? Most of us have our own ways of keeping our minds active and our bodies where they need to be. Yet it can be hard to understand that our kids may be doing the same things when they suck their fingers, flap their hands, jump in place, hum loudly.

    Keeping your engine running just right -- not so fast you fly out of control, not so slow you fall asleep -- is a complex task that requires a great deal of self-understanding and modulation. Teaching kids with special needs to do it successfully without calling a large amount of attention to themselves is a complex task, too.

    This booklet, just two dozen pages long, gives a pretty good description of what that task involves with an introduction to sensory integration and occupational therapy, and a brief rundown of the ways in which the Alert Program teaches kids to understand their energy levels and sensory-motor preferences and work with them to learn self-regulation. Maybe the most useful thing it does, though, is give parents a framework for understanding all this by questioning them about their own self-regulation challenges. The "Sensory-Motor Preferences Checklist” and “Questions to Ponder” that close the booklet may help you understand sensory integration in a way you never quite did before. That’s as good a place to start toward helping your child as any.

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